CENTRE – According to language in the original grant agreement that allowed the Cherokee County Commission to purchase, over 30 years ago, the property everyone knows today as Cherokee Rock Village, a recent plan by the Parks and Recreation Board to allow construction of one or more wind turbines inside the 200-acre tract was never an actual legal option.
The signed document, dated June 6, 1979, was recently discovered not in the County Commission archives but at the County Historical Museum, according to Probate Judge Melvyn Salter.
The document apparently sat forgotten for decades, including during the past several weeks as a debate raged within Cherokee County over plans to include the park in a proposed development of a wind turbine farm near Leesburg.
Regardless of the outcome at Cherokee Rock Village, a line of several turbines may soon be erected on Lookout Mountain.
According to a spokesman for Pioneer Green Energy, the Texas-based company in charge of the development, construction of 8 to 10 turbines planned for a private tract of land adjacent to the public park is contingent on the completion of a study underway by officials from the Tennessee Valley Authority.
The project could be completed as early as December 2013 if TVA gives the go-ahead.
In a resolution accompanying the grant and dated May 21, 1979, the County Commission adopted an agreement with the state of Alabama after determining it was in the public interest to develop the rocky outcropping atop Lookout Mountain. The resolution also declared that the Commission “affirms, adopts, concurs and agrees with all terms set forth in the agreement … and hereby authorizes and directs the President of the Cherokee County Commission to execute said agreement.”
The four-page document allowed for the purchase of what was then known as “Cherokee Rock City Park” and listed the cost of the 200 acres at $15,087. As part of the deal, the County Commission agreed to “follow all procedures … in regard to the construction, development, maintenance and operation” of the property, as required by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
The document cited another $13,330 in development costs that were to help, over a five-year span, to develop the area atop the mountain above Leesburg and was to include “picnic areas and support facilities.” The expected completion date of the development was listed as May 31, 1984.
In another attached document, the total project cost was estimated at $120,702, up to half of which ($60,351) was to have been funded by grants, primarily through the state Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service (HCRS).
The HCRS, created in January 1978 by the Carter administration, focused on outdoor recreation and administered the National Natural Landmarks Program. The organization provided grants to state and local governments for natural and cultural resource protection and development, according to the National Archives website.
The HCRS was abolished in February 1981 by the Reagan administration.
To create a chain of accountability in keeping with the recreation and resource protection goals of the HCRS, the original grant document clarified that the “primary and fundamental responsibility” for proper upkeep of the new park would be the obligation of the County Commission, under operational guidelines provided by HCRS.
Specifically, in a section of the agreement titled “Notice of Limitation of Use”, the document stipulated that the 200 acres was acquired with federal monies provided under the Land and Water Conservation Act of 1965 and “… Pursuant to a requirement of that law, this property may not be converted to other than public outdoor recreation uses … without the express written approval of the Secretary of the Interior.”
Salter said he and other county officials are still trying to determine if the five-year plan was ever completed, or if excitement about the park died out before the job was finished. Salter said it was around the same time in 1984 that the Parks and Recreation Board (PRB) was first chartered by the County Commission.
The PRB is a stand-alone entity with broad discretion regarding the county’s park system.
Salter confirmed last week that he has spoken with officials at various agencies currently charged with oversight of Cherokee Rock Village and the park’s compliance with guidelines relating to the expenditure of grant money. He said those officials told him no letter was ever sent from the PRB requesting permission to alter the parameters of the 1979 agreement prior to a September 2012 vote to enter into an agreement with Pioneer Green to place at least one wind turbine on park property.
An economic study conducted earlier this year by Jacksonville State University estimated that a turbine in Cherokee Rock Village would earn the county around $300,000 in property taxes over the farm’s 30-year lifetime.
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